Partnerships: Make them an offer they can’t refuse

Effective partnerships between local businesses and schools can help broaden the aspirations of your school’s students and can be a great source of financial support – as long as you make businesses an offer they can’t refuse. MARIE CAHALANE investigates

There’s no doubt that school-business partnerships are beneficial to all stakeholders; businesses have resources and schools need resources – and this isn’t just in terms of financial support, it’s about opening the future up to students. But, how do schools forge such relationships? Schools have an armoury of assets that appeal to businesses; sponsoring a school is a means of giving back to and/or getting involved in, the local community, it’s a way of investing in the future and the future workforce, and can be an opportunity to meet corporate responsibilities. Additionally, schools can be a channel through which to reach a very closed, but influential, group – namely parents.

Skills for life

The skills that students learn in school are designed to carry them through life – although sometimes this gets lost in translation. Having relationships with local businesses gives students access to the world in a way that relates to their education. Healing Primary School in Grimsby has sought to do just this. Assistant head Melanie Nurse plays a critical role in developing links with businesses in the area to enhance the curriculum but also, as she says, “To give students the opportunity to see what’s out there – especially in our area – in terms of jobs for the future.”

Through her own connections, as well as the support and contacts provided by parents, Melanie has organised educational trips for students – where better to learn about electricity than at a power station? This programme gives all students the opportunity to experience a working environment and develop ideas about their futures. “If students don’t have that support at home, and if schools don’t give them that opportunity, who will? It’s a passion to give equal opportunities to children across board,” Melanie explains. The connections that have been made in the local area have had a great impact on the school; it now has some big-name sponsors that want to get involved with the school and its projects.

“The companies in the area have money that they want to give schools to work on these kinds of projects,” Melanie says and, while it has taken a great deal of work on the behalf of Melanie and her colleagues, the students have reaped the rewards.

Value-added partnerships

At the Victoria Park Primary Academy, Smethwick, they approached school-business partnerships a little differently. “We were interested in formalising partnerships with particular organisations that we wanted to work with in a more sustained way,” curriculum director Lisa Worgan says of the academy’s ‘ViP member’s and partner’s scheme’. The school offered businesses, community groups and providers the opportunity to become part of their ViP scheme – so long as the partnerships proved beneficial to the curriculum and learning and the member shared the school’s ethos and values.

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The programme was introduced in 2013 and, although currently on hold, it is a great example of how a school can develop meaningful relationships with businesses and organisations on varying levels: community, collaboration, or commitment. “For instance, we worked with charities and community-based organisations where the relationship was about the support that we could give each other but also worked with some of our supply agencies who entered into the partnership scheme as the highest-level partner – this level of activity was paid for as they were benefiting,” Lisa explains.

Make them an offer they can’t refuse

The highest level of formalised relationship at Victoria Park was Commitment: ViP partners level 2. Such partners were charged £500 annually which meant, for example, that their logo featured on the partners board by the school’s entrance and in the school’s tri-annual magazine – which goes out to a parent body of circa 450 students.

In addition, they were invited to school events, allowed to bring stands or promotional materials and had permission to have the school’s logo on their website. The appeal to businesses – other than access to the school’s large and changing parent base – was that the partnership was an endorsement by a school which is highly respected in the local community. As Lisa notes, “Using our ViP branding was attractive to them as it could work to create opportunities for them with other schools.”

Lisa is quick to point out that the programme never made ‘loads of money’. This she says is because it was never designed to generate income – it was about ‘partnership working’. “What it did do is give us a small pot of money that we were then able to use for entrepreneurial projects in the school.” Now that Victoria Park is the lead school of six within an expanding multi-academy trust Lisa recognises the potential for further partnerships.

This is an abstract of an article that appeared in the May issue of Education Executive. You can read the full article here.

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